How long should you rest between sets? 1 minute? 3 minutes? 5?
After reading this post you will learn:
- How long you should rest between sets for muscle growth, strength, and endurance,
- If you should be fully recovered before doing another exercise, and
- How long to rest between workouts
So if you’re ready to talk about optimal rest time between sets, let’s dive right in.
How Long To Rest Between Sets?
You should rest anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes between sets. It all depends on what your training goals are.
In general, the heavier the weight you are using, the longer your rest periods should be. Similarly, the more repetitions you do per set, the shorter your rest should be.
In other words,
- the heavier the exercise,
- the fewer reps you will be able to do, and
- the longer your rest period needs to be.
Got it? Good.
The next thing we need to determine is what are you training for? There are four different types of training modalities you should be using.
Are you training for hypertrophy (aka to build muscle?)
Are you training for strength?
Are you training for maximum power?
Or are you training for muscular and cardiovascular endurance?
In other words, are the weights light, moderate, heavy or very heavy?
How Long Should You Rest To Build Muscle (AKA Hypertrophy)
If you are training for muscle growth, you should keep your rest periods to about 3 minutes.
The idea is that you should be lifting weights that are moderately heavy.
This means that you should only be able to perform 7-12 repetitions per set with whatever weight you are using. Not more than 12. (We have an entire article on how many sets and reps you should do here)
3 minutes is the sweet spot. If you wait too long or go too soon, then you can negate the effects of hypertrophy training.
Set your timer.
3 minutes goes by fast. If you are with friends chatting it up, or on your phone answering emails, you may miss the boat.
How Long Should You Rest For Strength?
If you are training to build strength (aka strength training), you should keep your rest periods between 3 and 4 minutes.
It should go without saying that if you are training for strength, you should be using heavy weight.
This means your weights should be challenging. If you can do more than 6 repetitions per set, then you are not training for strength. Conversely, you should at least be able to get 4 solid reps.
The heavier weights will fatigue your central nervous system much more than hypertrophy range weights.
Several studies have confirmed that 3 minutes is a good time frame to rest to build muscular size and strength.
In addition, it may take a minute or two just to get your mental fortitude right for the next set.
The longer rest periods should allow you to keep the volume relatively constant across sets.
How Long Should You Rest Between Sets For Maximal Strength?
If you are training for maximal strength (i.e 1 rep max training), you should you should keep your rest periods between 4 and 5 minutes.
This type of training requires the use of very heavy weights.
It is always fun to dabble in the maximal strength range from time to time.
This means you should be using weights where you can only perform 1-3 repetitions per set. (With good form)
Training in this range is tough mentally and physically.
The purpose of the longer rest period is to allow the accumulated fatigue from the sets to dissipate and allow you to perform more than one set.
Why should you train in this range?
Purely for fun.
It is the one true method of seeing the accumulated progress you have made with training. A one rep max shows you what your body is capable of.
Again, only an experienced lifter should utilize this type of training due to injury risk.
Training for maximal strength should only occur twice a year at most.
How Long Should You Rest Between Sets To Build Endurance?
If you are training for endurance or metabolic conditioning, your rest periods should be 30-90 seconds between sets.
This is also known as metabolic conditioning or met-con for short.
This is beneficial for athletes who enjoy long distance, or long duration athletic events such as running or CrossFit.
Endurance training will typically utilize rep ranges > 12 reps per sets.
Some training programs call for 20 rep sets.
Obviously, the weight lifted will be “light” compared to the other three training modalities, so the intensity of the exercise is much less.
This type of training is more cardio-esque than anything. Your cardiorespiratory capacity will likely be your limiting factor.
This is why the rest periods are kept short. It allows you to keep an element of aerobic capacity at all times.
Do not expect to get any significant muscular size or strength using this training modality.
Is it bad to rest too long between sets?
It’s not necessarily bad to rest long between sets, but you should never exceed 4-5 minutes of rest. Especially if you aren’t training for maximal strength.
Resting more than 5 minutes per set can “cool you off,” lowering your core body temperature and decreasing your blood circulation.
This will simply waste time, and might decrease your ability to maintain consistent efforts between sets.
What Should You Do When resting between sets?
The best thing you can do to rest between sets is… rest. I recommend that you sit down, catch your breath, and get your mental state ready for the next set.
I personally like to set a timer to make sure that I am sticking to the recommended rest periods. Avoid chatting with buddies and checking instagram as this will waste time and deter you from what you should be focusing on.
Should You Rest More If You Go To Failure On Every Set?
It depends on what your goal is. If you are training for strength, then yes, it is reasonable to rest longer between sets if you are going to failure.
If you are training for hypertrophy or endurance, you can still keep the rest periods short.
With that said, I do not recommend that you train to failure on every set. This can be very fatiguing both mentally and physically. I wouldn’t use failure training more than once a week.
How Much Rest Do I Need Between Workouts?
In general, you should aim to workout 3-4 times a week, and not go more than 2-3 days in a row without taking a rest day.
In addition, you should not train the same muscle group with heavy compound exercises on two consecutive training days.
Give each major muscle group ~48 hours to recover.
Keep in mind that these are guidelines, and your life may force you to deviate from these recommendations.
That is okay!
The key is that you try to stick to the plan as often as possible, and be flexible enough to make necessary changes when the situation arises.
How long Should I Rest Between Exercises?
It depends on how difficult the last set of the previous exercise was.
If you are lifting moderately heavy, and you you should wait 2-3 minutes between exercises.
If you are doing endurance type training or using lighter weights, you should only wait 30-90 seconds.
With that said, you should always find ways to make your workout more efficient so that you spend the least amount of time at the gym as possible.
You should rest only as long as you need to catch your breath from the last exercise.
Don’t use this time to catch up with your buddy or start scrolling through your Instagram feed.
Hydrate, put your weights away and start getting things ready for the next exercise.
Always aim to move on as quickly as possible. You may not be completely recovered, but forcing yourself to keep working will build aerobic capacity.
Other Related Questions
Is it okay to rest between reps?
You can rest between reps, as long as you aren’t prolonging your sets unnecessarily. This is common in exercises that start with a concentric component such as
Resting between reps is a good way to increase the total amount of volume you do on a workout to workout basis. I would keep the rest to no more than 5 seconds between reps.
Is there a difference with how long to rest between sets for weight loss?
If your goal is to lose weight, then you should try and do as much work as possible, in as little time as possible.
In order to do this, you should keep your rest periods short.
This will build muscular endurance, but also burn the most calories.
This type of training is beneficial if you are performing high intensity interval training (HIIT) style workout.
What If I Am Doing Supersets? How Long Should I Rest Between Supersets?
What if you are doing supersets? How long should you rest between those exercises?
A good rule of thumb is to take 30-60 seconds between the two superset exercises, and then 2-3 minutes before restarting the next superset.
You don’t want your rest period to be so short that you can’t accomplish the work, and you don’t want to make them be too long, otherwise, there is no point in super-setting.
If you don’t know what a superset is…
A superset is a form of training in which you perform two distinct exercises back to back with taking little to no rest in between the movements.
Why would you do supersets?
They save time.
Particularly if you are someone who does not have a lot of time to spend in the gym. This is one of our 9 Effective Workout Hacks To Spend Less Time in the Gym.
Do Different Exercises Require Different Rest Periods?
Different exercises will require different rest periods.
Just think about how much more fatigued you are after performing a set of deadlifts compared to a set of tricep pushdowns.
You will need 1-2 minute just to get your respiratory rate back to normal after deadlifts.
Meanwhile, you can go for an all-out run after performing a heavy set of tricep pushdowns.
I recommend that you take at least 3 minutes of rest whenever you perform any of the Big 4 Compound Exercises or their variations.
This means taking at least 3 minutes of rest between sets of squats, bench presses, deadlifts, and overhead presses.
Isolation exercises will never produce anywhere near as much fatigue as these exercises would, and will benefit from the shorter rest periods described above.
Should you do more than 3 sets?
It depends on how many repetitions you are doing. In general, you should try to do at least 20 repetitions of each exercise per workout.
So if you are doing sets of 8-12 repetition per set, 3 sets in enough. If you are only doing 4-6 reps per set, you should do at least 4 sets.
Final Words on Rest Periods
Alright, so now you have a guide on
Use your rest periods wisely, and change them based on the number of reps you are performing and the specific training modality you are using.
Don’t make the mistake of wasting time in between sets of exercises. When you are at the gym, it’s time for work, not play.
Now we turn it over to you.
How long do you rest between sets?
Have you ever changed the rest periods to improve some fitness attribute?
Comment below and let us know!
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